Comprehensive Guide to selected species of:
Birds of the Boreal Forest « back to Guide
White-winged Crossbill Loxia leucoptera
Family: Finches, Fringillidae
Audio: Martyn Stewart, © Naturesound.org
An estimated 85% of the North American population of White-winged Crossbill breeds in Canada's boreal forest. White-winged Crossbills are found year-round in conifer forests wherever there are large crops of spruce or tamarack cones. Like other crossbills, this species is specialized for foraging on seeds in conifer cones, and much of its behavior and ecology can be understood in terms of tracking this highly variable food resource. Often traveling in large flocks, these birds are highly efficient at finding and extracting conifer seeds, using their crossed bills to wedge open cone scales and then lifting seeds free with their tongues. White-winged Crossbills wander nomadically across boreal forests in search of conifer cone crops˜up to 10,000 individuals have been counted moving move through an area in a day˜and large scale irruptions take place when seed availability declines in more northerly areas. Habitat area and quality may decline substantially because the boreal forests across Canada, and especially black spruce forests, are being logged at an accelerated rate. Forestry practices that protect more forested habitat from logging, increase rotation periods, and maintain large tracts of mature forest will help maintain stable populations.
Description 6-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Size of a largish sparrow. Mandibles crossed at tips. Male raspberry-pink; females grayer, without pink. Both sexes have 2 white wing bars.
Habitat Coniferous forests.
Nesting 2-4 pale blue eggs, spotted with dark brown, laid in a shallow saucer of bark strips, grass, and roots lined with moss and plant down, placed near the end of a conifer branch.
Voice Call like that of the Red Crossbill, but a softer chiff-chiff-chiff. Song a series of sweet canarylike warbles and trills.
Range Breeds from Alaska and northern Quebec south to Newfoundland and British Columbia. In winter, south to Carolinas and Oregon. Also in Eurasia.
Discussion The White-winged Crossbill with its smaller, slimmer bill is more dependent upon spruce cones than pines, but like the Red Crossbill it wanders widely and irregularly in search of cones and may breed at any month of the year. In years when seeds are abundant in the northern forests the birds tend to remain there. When the supply fails they come south in large numbers and may often be seen in quiet flocks, clinging to clusters of cones like little parrots. Their travels sometimes take them far to the south of their breeding range, and the species has managed to establish itself in the pine forests of Hispaniola in the West Indies.